Efforts to rebuild post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans and the surrounding area are still very much underway, and 26 of the College’s Bonner Scholars recently joined volunteers from around the nation to pitch in. On Jan. 18, the group returned to New Jersey after a weeklong trip to the region, though they remain keenly aware that there is still much work to be done.
“There has been progress, but not to the degree you’d imagine it would be after this long,” Todd Stoner, Bonner Center student development program coordinator, said.
This was the third trip for Stoner, who graduated from the College last year.
Morgan Reil, youth development program coordinator of the Bonner Center, also graduated last year, and attended the service trip for the fifth time. She echoed Stoner’s sentiments about the lack of significant progress since last January.
“The lack of drastic change is the biggest thing you notice,” she said.
Though Hurricane Katrina devastated the region more than three years ago, many homeowners still remain displaced. According to Reil, on any given street, some houses have been completely rebuilt while others look just as they did the day after the storm.
“The status of some communities in New Orleans is a national embarrassment and really makes us wonder why there is such a disconnect between what we value as a nation and how our resources are distributed,” Pat Donohue, director of the Bonner Center, said.
The burden of rebuilding has largely been placed on homeowners themselves, as well as volunteers. The students worked directly with homeowners to help accomplish tasks necessary for them to move back into their homes. Each time the Bonners have made the 20-hour pilgrimage, they stayed at a work camp with other volunteers and completed a variety of tasks. The first trip, Reil said, focused on demolition, while each of the others consisted mainly of rebuilding.
According to Donohue, the trip is part of the program for first-year Bonner Scholars, who are accompanied by upperclass leaders and staff.
“These trips provide a great service not just to the people we serve, but to people who go on these trips as well,” Michael Strom, senior political science major, said. Strom is also responsible for organizing trips to the area with other students groups.
The group returned Sunday, just one day before the nation celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Donohue said, “There is no doubt in my mind that if King was alive today, he would ask us to question how much we are spending in Iraq while we have so many devastated communities in places like New Orleans.”